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Bob Bakish Talks Consolidation, Working With Streamers

Bob Bakish batted away questions about a potential merger with CBS on Tuesday and instead doubled down on his strategy for growing Viacom, talking up Paramount’s TV production business and revealing that MTV is making a soon-to-be-announced reality show for one of the major streamers.

Bakish, speaking at the Royal Television Society London Conference, would not directly address a potential CBS-Viacom merger but acknowledged “there is a quest for scale” in the media business. He said Viacom was focused on its own growth plan and creating scale organically. “Where I sit today, we have a very clear path to value creation ahead of us,” he said, adding: “There is a lot of exciting road ahead without consolidation.”

He spoke extensively about protecting Viacom’s traditional linear TV business while also capitalizing on new opportunities with its own streaming services, and in providing content to the likes of Netflix and Amazon. MTV is making a reality show for a major streamer, Bakish said, and Paramount Television will go from producing nine shows in 2018 to 16 next year, shifting from a $400-million to a $600-million operation, on its way to becoming a billion-dollar business. The ramp-up is fueled by the growth of the streamers, although they do not share performance stats, he said.

“That rise is driven at least partly by the SVOD players,” he said. “A show like ‘13 Reasons Why’ continues to apparently get a lot of usage on Netflix. I say ‘apparently,’ because no one really knows.”

Bakish said Viacom does not want to “create another Netflix,” which is hugely capital-intensive, preferring to grow its own niche services. He noted the global expansion of SVOD services and said he expects Hulu to grow internationally. “Hulu continues to be a significant player in the U.S., and now my understanding is they are going to expand into Latin America,” he said.

Viacom and CBS explored a merger earlier this year, before talks stalled. With the departure of CBS chief Les Moonves following allegations of harassment, an outspoken opponent of a merger has been removed, but Viacom and CBS controlling shareholder National Amusements has agreed in a new settlement not to propose a merger for two years. The companies themselves could pursue a deal, however, and Bakish would be considered a strong candidate to head a newly combined operation.

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